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O Pioneers! (1913)
by Willa Cather
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I never wanted to be a pioneer, but Cather sure showed me how that sort of life could be appealing to many people. ( )
Some of the names in this book jarred with me, but on the whole I enjoyed it. Particularly Alexandra and her confidence in taking a risk and making it work, not just for herself but her brothers, who apart from the youngest, Emil, don't understand or appreciate her.
Set in “Hanover”, Nebraska, our story starts (The Wild Land) thirty years before the book’s publication, so about 1883 and the first section describes the hard farming life of Nordic and German immigrants, with their young families. In particular, Alexandra Bergson, daughter of John who dies at 46 having tried to farm 640 acres for eleven years. Alexandra , having more agricultural and business shrewdness, is left in charge of her three brothers, two of whom are old enough to work the land.
This is a mixed farm, with arable, beef, hogs, hens and a dairy cow for their own milk, with a cottage garden to provide vegetables. John had paid off the mortgage before he died, being a more successful farmer than many of his neighbours.
After a couple of poor agricultural years, this section ends with Alexandra persuading her brothers not to sell up, to stay farming and to take out a new mortgage to buy more land, as many neighbours sell up to return east to easier employment (but without the possibility of improvement).
I found this really engaging and interesting, as one of my grandfathers was a farmer, with three sons who became farmers, although my mother married away from the farm.
The next section (Neighboring Fields) is set sixteen years after John Bergson died, so more than ten years from when the family decided to stay and buy more land.
The story moves wonderfully, tragically, inexorably on, and is not surprising.
But the farmland, the landscape, the land, is beautifully described, evoked, brought to life. It is this that for me lifts this story above the melodramatic.
I was disappointed in this work on several grounds. First, the character development was shallow at best. Second, although I had hoped for a compelling description of the pioneer culture, the treatment was superficial. Finally, the actual writing and storyline struck me as simplistic. In fairness, I just finished reading The Grapes of Wrath- which accomplishes all of these things on a completely different level and is a far superior work.
Moderately entertaining, but I would not recommend the book as there are far better options.
This one really resonates for me because of my Scandinavian pioneer heritage. The land is almost a character of its own in the novel and that part of of the novel really stood out for me. The doomed romance seemed a little out of character from the rest of the book, but didn't detract from the overall effect for me. Beautiful prose with a strong female protagonist.
There isn't a vestige of 'style' as such: for page after page one is dazed at the ineptness of the medium and the triviality of the incidents...
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Early Novels and Stories: The Troll Garden / O Pioneers! / The Song of the Lark / My Antonia / One of Ours by Willa Cather
Willa Cather - The Library of America Set Complete in 3 Volumes (1. Early Novels & Stories; 2. Stories, Poems and Other Writings; and 3. Later Novels) by Willa Cather (indirect)
Three Classics By American Women: The Awakening; Ethan Frome; O Pioneers ( Bantam Classics) by Kate Chopin
Willa Cather: Four Great Novels—O Pioneers!, One of Ours, The Song of the Lark, My Ántonia by Willa Cather
Set of 3 Book of the Month Club (Death Comes for the Archbishop, My Antonia, O' Pioneers) by Willa Cather
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Wikipedia in English (2)
A Swedish family migrate to Nebraska at the turn of the 20th century. The daughter of the family inherits the land when her father dies, and the story follows her struggle to maintain it when many around her are leaving the prairie in defeat. There are two romantic narratives in the novel: that of the daughter and a family friend, and of her brother and a married woman.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.52Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1900-1944
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